Now I’m no scientist, but …

When the people who do know what they’re talking about look deeply worried it unsettles me. When they can’t sleep, I start to feel a bit panicky. So this story about the Wilkins ice shelf, which scientists have been concerned (masters of understatement, scientists…) about for while now, is a bit, um, concerning.

I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting the passages that sounded a little, well, worriesome, to me:

An ice bridge, up to 40 kilometres long but at its narrowest just 500 metres wide, was thought to be holding the giant shelf to the Antarctic continent but it recently snapped.

From above, parts of the Wilkins Ice Shelf now look like giant panes of shattered glass.

British Antarctic Survey glaciologist Professor David Vaughan has been monitoring the Wilkins Ice Shelf for some time with the help of satellite imagery.

“The ice shelf has almost exploded into a large number, hundreds of small icebergs,” he said.

“The images on the European Space Agency website show that the ice bridge was relatively stable for the past month or two.

“In fact we visited the ice bridge – we landed on it with an aircraft and put a GPS, a satellite positioning system, onto the ice shelf. And that’s another way we’ve been monitoring its movements over the last few weeks.”

Researchers believe the ice bridge was an important barrier, keeping the rest of the ice shelf in place.

Dr Ted Scambos, the lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre at the University of Colorado, told ABC Radio National he was concerned.

“The follow on is that large chunks of ice break away from the area that’s become unstable because it’s no longer braced,” he said.

“And we see a retreat to a smaller ice shelf, or perhaps no ice shelf at all. It’s in the last stages. Right now I think about half the Wilkins will remain after this is done.”

The size of the impact on sea levels is still being debated but scientists believe climate change is affecting the Antarctic to a greater extent than previously expected.

Scientific consensus is a little like an iceberg. The 2% that scientists can actually agree upon sits above the surface, while the most interesting discoveries, that they’re almost 95% sure on but just can’t say for sure, sits below the water line, with the rest of us blithely unaware.

So the next time you happen to bump into a prematurely grey climate¬† scientist, walk on by quickly — and don’t ask, you don’t want to know…

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